Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World

Get access Subject: Jewish Studies
Executive Editor: Norman A. Stillman

Help us improve our service

The Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World Online (EJIW) is the first cohesive and discreet reference work which covers the Jews of Muslim lands particularly in the late medieval, early modern and modern periods. The Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World Online is updated with newly commissioned articles, illustrations, multimedia, and primary source material. 

Subscriptions: see brill.com

Zacuto, Abraham b. Samuel

(684 words)

Author(s): Moises Orfali
Abraham ben Samuel Zacuto (1452–1515), one of the sages of Spain on the eve of the expulsion in 1492, was a rabbi, astrologer, and historian who won renown for his profound knowledge of astronomy. He was born in Salamanca and received his Jewish education from his father, Samuel, and from Isaac Aboab, known as the last gaon of Castile. He studied astronomy and astrology at the university in his hometown.Zacuto’s first book, Ha-Ḥibbur ha-Gadol (The Great Composition), a description of the solar system, was composed between the years 1473 and 1478. Until 1480 he was engaged in scientific astro…

Zafrani, Haïm

(559 words)

Author(s): Mohamed Elmedlaoui
Born in Essaouira (Mogador) in 1922, where he received his basic Jewish education, Haïm Zafrani became a member of the Royal Commission for Educational Reform in the early years of independent Morocco (1956–1961). Employed also by the Alliance Israélite Universelle (the Moroccan branch of which was renamed Ittihad-Maroc a few years after independence), he was instrumental in integrating an Arabic curriculum into the Jewish day schools in independent Morocco. He then pursed an academic career in France, first appointed in 1962 to the position of chair in Hebrew at the…

Zagora (and region)

(587 words)

Author(s): Aomar Boum
In his description of the Draʿa in southern Morocco in the sixteenth century, Leo Africanus applied the name Tansita to the oases and mountains of the central Draʿa. Tansita comprised about fifty villages inhabited by the Banū Maʿqīl tribe and Oulad Yaḥya (Awlād Yaḥyā). Both settlements are part of the district of Ternata. South of Ternata, the basin of the palm groves of Fezwata extends for more than 30 kilometers (19 miles) to Tizi n Takkate. Fezwata and Ternata (separated by the pass of Imi n Tazagourt) are one of the greenest oases of the Draʿa, housing a number of …

Zagury, Yaḥyā

(465 words)

Author(s): David Cohen
Yaḥyā Zagury, born in Casablanca in 1878, entered the service of the French consulate in Casablanca as a dragoman (interpreter). In July and August 1907, French and Spanish workers employed in the construction of the port were massacred by tribes from the Casablanca vicinity which feared that the port would harm their interests. The decision to carry out the port project had been made at the Algeciras Conference of 1906. In addition, the insurgents plundered the city’s Jewish stores. European citizens, mostly from France, took refuge in the French consulate, which wa…


(944 words)

Author(s): Yona Sabar
Zakho is a Kurdish town in northern Iraq, situated about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the Turkish border and 20 kilometers (12½ miles) from the Syrian. Its name probably derives from Beth-Zakhu(house of victory) mentioned in a Syriac manuscript from the eleventh century, but Kurds and Jews have different etymologies (see below).In addition to the largely Kurdish Muslim population, Zakho also had a Christian community (Assyrians [Nestorians], Chaldean Catholics, Armenians) and a Jewish community. Each community lived in a separate quarter close to…

Zana, Léon

(315 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Léon Zana was a Tunisian Jew born in La Goulette, a suburb of Tunis, on August 16, 1912. He worked at a bank in Tunis and from 1927 to 1933 was a member of the bank employees union. In 1928 he joined the Communist Party, serving in a leadership role from 1932 to 1934. The bank fired him because ofhis political activities, and in September 1934, along with other nationalist and Communist militants, he was deported to the military territories in southern Tunisia. He was freed in September 1935, but was immediately rearrested and sent to the prison of Borj le Bœuf (now Bordj-Bouguiba) in the south.Fol…

Zana, Victor

(182 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Victor Zana, the older brother of Leon Zana, was born in Tunis in 1904 and died in Paris in 1963. As a student at the Lycée Carnot, he was known for his pro-Communist ideas and acts. He joined the Communist Party at an early age and became the leader of its youth branch. Between 1925 and 1930, he was a member of the Union des Syndicats de Tunis. In 1928, he represented the Tunisian section of the Communist Party at the Sixth Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) in Moscow under the pseudonym “Mustapha.” Very little is known of his activities at the congress, except…


(3 words)

Author(s): Angel Saénz-Badillos
see SaragossaAngel Saénz-Badillos

Zarqa, Joseph

(186 words)

Author(s): Pinchas Giller
Joseph Zarqa (1722–1798), a student of Isaac Lumbruso, was an influential Tunisian kabbalist. Zarqa’s kabbalistic activity was centered on bringing specifically Lurianic traditions into the practice of North African Jewry. Employed as a scribe, he adapted the Lurianic traditions regarding scribal practices into his own writing of Torah scrolls. When queried regarding matters that fell between halakha and Kabbala, Zarqa was apt to resolve the problem in accordance with the kabbalistic interpretation, advocating the a…

Zarqa, Solomon

(921 words)

Author(s): Yossef Charvit
Solomon ben Shalom Zarqa, who died in Guelma in 1876, was a noted rabbi, author, and translator of religious texts in Algeria during the nineteenth century. A native of Tunis, he migrated to Algeria and lived at various times in Souk-Ahras, Oran, Constantine, and Guelma. As a member of the first generation of Algerian rabbinical scholars after the French occupation, he had to contend with the changes in the legal status of Algerian Jewry, the many challenges to the traditional way of life, and the overlap between Jewish and French law that all served to undermine…


(552 words)

Author(s): Daniel Schroeter
Zarzis is a town on the coast of southeastern Tunisia, about 50 kilometers (32 miles) south of Jerba and close to the Libyan border. A Jewish community was established in Zarzis in 1883 after French settlers began developing olive oil production in the town and region during the French protectorate (1881–1956). Nearly the entire Jewish community was made up of Jerban Jews from Hara Kebira who, seeking opportunities in the colonial economy, formed a network of satellite communities together with other towns in the region (Ben Gardane, Medenine, Matmata). The large synagogue, modeled on…


(303 words)

Author(s): Rachel Simon
Zawiya lies on the Mediterranean coast 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Tripoli, Libya. The town surrounds a Sufi compound (Ar. zāwiya) which became a commercial center for the region’s nomads.When the ancient Jewish community in nearby Sorman was destroyed in 1150 by the Almohads, the survivors settled in Zawiya, protected by local tribes. The community grew in the seventeenth century, but relations with the Muslims deteriorated in the late eighteenth century. The town’s Jews were prevented from building a new synagogue to replace the one, which had collapsed. A century lat…

Zaynab Begum

(199 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Zaynab Begum (d. 1641/42), the aunt of Shah ʿAbbās I (r. 1587–1629) of Iran, was an influential figure at his court. The fourth daughter of Shah Ṭahmāsp I (r. 1524–1576), she became head matron of the royal harem at Shah ʿAbbās’s court, thus wielding considerable power over him. Zaynab Begum was one of the shah’s close and trusted companions and sat in his councils. She was famous for her charitable works and architectural projects. The Judeo-Persian chronicle Kitāb-i Anusī (The Book of a Forced Convert) by Bābāī b. Luṭf recounts her crucial role in assuring the smooth su…

Zefira, Bracha

(923 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Bracha Zefira (ca. 1911–1990) was was born into a family of immigrants from Yemen who settled in Jerusalem in 1887 Orphaned at the age of three, she was adopted by Jerusalemite families of different ethnic backgrounds. This early multi-ethnic experience made an imprint on her career, as she acknowledged in a 1962 interview: “Since I was three years old, I wandered from home to home. . . . when a child is born without mother and father, without a home . . . he starts to cling to something that can st…

Zéiré Zion Society (Alexandria)

(314 words)

Author(s): Ruth Kimche
The Zéiré Zion Association (Agudat Ṣeʿire Ṣiyyon, Young Zionist Association) was founded in Alexandria in May 1907 by Simon Zlottin with a membership of thirty and a committee made up entirely of Ashkenazim. In 1909, with the disintegration of the Tikvat Zion Association (Agudat Tiqvat-Ṣiyyon), Zéiré Zion became the only Zionist organization in Alexandria, and from then on it was the center of Zionist activity in the city. In 1912 its new leadership committee recruited Mizraḥi activists from the defunct Tikvat Zion. The organization n…

Zeki Effendi (Moshe ben Rafael Attias)

(715 words)

Author(s): Gabi Abramac
Zeki Effendi (1845-1916) was born Moshe ben Rafael Attias (Atijas) to a prominent Sephardic Jewish family in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was also known as Moše Rafajlović.He was a tax advisor, a scholar of Islamic religion and culture and of medieval Persian literature, a collector of Bosnian-Sephardic heritage, a translator, and a historian of Bosnian Jewry.After having completed his secondary schooling at an Ottoman state school in Sarajevo, he continued his education in Istanbul, focusing on Islamic religion and culture, especially on the…

Zerbib, Abraham

(291 words)

Author(s): Yossef Charvit
Abraham Zerbib (1870–1942) was a rabbi and scholar in Algeria during the first half of the twentieth century. Born in Constantine, he served as head of the town’s ritual slaughterers (Heb. shoḥeṭim) and from 1912 to 1913 edited the Judeo-Arabic weekly Al-Ḥikma(Heb. Ha-Ḥokhma). During the 1930s he was appointed chief rabbi of the community of Setif, in the province of Constantine. He was known for his open-minded approach to French culture and his French patriotism. During the First World War, he encouraged his son to serve in the French army.Zerbib’s writings, none of which were pu…

Zerbib, Masʿūd

(539 words)

Author(s): Yossef Charvit
Masʿūd Zerbīb (or Zaghbīb) al-Ḥasid (1655–1719) was a scholar in the Algerian city of Constantine at the end of the seventeenth century. He was given the sobriquet al-Ḥasid (Jud.-Ar. the Pious) because of his piety and his commentaries on the Torah. While the Jewish community of Constantine and its leadership were autonomous during his lifetime, Zerbīb nonetheless strongly felt the yoke of Ottoman rule. This feeling finds expression in his book Zeraʿ  ’Emet (Livorno, 1851) in  the words “we are hereby in the lowest rung of the exile” (Jerusalem ed., p. 181). Although the book is a commenta…